Spatial Storytelling

Spatial inquiry and analysis is of growing interest in multiple disciplines. At CMU, courses in geographic information systems (GIS) are taught in the Heinz and Dietrich Colleges and a course on Spatial History has been offered through the History Department. In addition to instruction, researchers in every College of CMU, from the College of Engineering to the Tepper School of Business, are leveraging spatial tools and techniques in their research. Although the application of many of these tools and techniques differ between disciplines, spatial storytelling crosses over disciplinary boundaries. Students and scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences can all utilize spatial narratives to tell stories and provide context to their research. To that end, we organized a series of events in 2018-2019 called the Spatial Storytelling Series and we are teaching an undergraduate course for IDeaTe called Spatial Storytelling and GIS. 

Undergraduate Course in Ideate | Spring 2020, Mini 3

We have tried to capture the essense of our Spatial Storytelling Series in a Mini course. We piloted the course in Spring 2020 and hope to teach it again in the future. See the course description below, 99363 IDeATe: Spatial Storytelling and GIS.

Spatial Storytelling and GIS promotes the use of digital storytelling methods and methodologies across disciplinary topics. In this Spring mini, students are guided through the process from identifying a research problem, collecting data from diverse sources, learning specific geospatial mapping tools, and finally crafting narrative. They will work with spatial information (geospatial data) to build complex multimodal narratives around social issues. By the end of this course, students will know: what are spatial data, how to find and identify different types of spatial data, how to create a story based on data, and how to analyze data in geospatial software. Students will be able to develop constructive critique and data literacy skills to critically review peer work across disciplinary topics. Using competencies gained over the semester, students will create an online interactive narrative and to present it to the broader community.

Spatial Storytelling Series | October 2018 - May 2019

The Spatial Storytelling Series is a series of events and workshops on spatial storytelling. These events support broader interaction between members of the CMU community who engage in any aspect of spatial storytelling. We hope to promote critical engagement with spatial data and concepts and learn how we can best support research and student learning by supporting the creation of spatial narratives.

Kick-off Panel Discussion

We held a kick-off event to introduce our Spatial Storytelling Series on November 1, 2018, 5 - 8 p.m in the Cohon University Center, Connan Room. The event brought together spatial thinkers from CMU, who spoke to their work around creating and communicating spatial narratives. Our speakers were asked to engage critically with how they use spatial data or communicate stories through their use of or representations of space.

Panelists being introduced by Emma Slayton

Go their webpages below to learn more about the Panelists:

  • Kristen Kurland, Heinz College and School of Architecture
  • Jennifer Keating, Dietrich College
  • Chris Goranson, Heinz College
  • Illah Nourbakhsh, School of Computer Science
  • Shannon Knapp, Quantum Theater Group

To read more about the event read our blog post and to see some photos from the event visit this Facebook gallery. Thanks again to all who attended and participated, and to CMU's ProSEED program who funded the series with a Crosswalk grant.

Workshops in the Library

Story Maps Workshop with Joseph Kerski | October 30, 2018

Joseph Kerski, a Geographer & Educator at ESRI, gave a great workshop on ESRI's Story Map tool. You can find out more about him and access links to other resources on his website:

Finding Stories in Data Workshop with WPRDC | Nov 28, 2018

Our second workshop in the series was a workshop on Finding Stories in Data, part of the Data 101 series created by the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center. You can find the workshop materials in their Data 101 Toolkit and many other great resources, especially spatial data, on their website,

StoryMap Workshop with Daniel Wickens | January 31, 2019

At the end of January, we hosted Daniel Wickens, a Solution Engineer, from ESRI - the makers of ArcGIS Software - for a workshop on creating StoryMaps with ESRI's StoryMap tool. Thanks to everyone who came out in the polar vortex to learn about StoryMaps!

Digital Stories Workshop with Jess FitzPatrick | February 18, 2019

This February, we hosted Jessica FitzPatrick from the University of Pittsburgh's English Department. Jessica is an expert in Spatial Studies and Postcolonial Science Fiction. Presenting "Telling Digital Stories", the last workshop in our Spatial Storytelling Series, Jessica educated the audience on different ways to tell stories, important mechanisms in storytelling and had everyone interacting with some cool examples! Click here to download the slide deck.

StoryMap Competition and Expo

The Spatial Storytelling Series culminated in a Story Map Expo on Thursday, April 18, 2019 in Hunt Library Ideate Studio B from 3:00pm - 5:00pm. The event included a poster-style presentation of four entries at a time during two 40-minute time slots. We had a panel of judges on hand to select three winners: the Best Overall Story Map, the Best Visualization, and the Best Narrative. To see all the entries check out our newsletter describing the event